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Canada: IALS Library Guides

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of Canada

Update information

Last updated:

Alice Tyson, May 2021

About the author

This guide was created by Lisa Davies, former Access Librarian at the IALS Library.

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Related IALS Guides

Useful links

We also recommend the following online resources for Canadian research:

Introduction

Canada is a federal state consisting of ten provinces and three territories. The provinces are Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec and Saskatchewan. The three territories are the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon. The federal parliament is based in Ottawa and each of the territories and provinces has its own legislature to deal with the laws in their areas.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Canada and is recongised as the head of state. The governor general of Canada is the Queen’s representative in Canada. The head of state and governor general are both roles which are largely symbolic.

Canada's legal system is based on a combination of common law and civil law. Whilst the majority of Canada is considered to be a common law country, the province of Québec operates a system of civil law. Canada's bijuralism is described in historial and practical terms on the Department of Justice website.

English and French are the official languages in Canada and both languages have equal status. As a result, federal legislation is published in both languages, as are the Supreme Court Reports and the Federal Courts Reports. Many provinces publish in French, notably Québec.

The IALS Library has a comprehensive collection of primary and secondary material for Canada as a whole and significant holdings for the Canadian provinces and territories.

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Constitution

The Constitution is the highest law of Canada. It includes several laws, judicial decisions, agreements and traditions. The main written parts are:

  • The Constitution Act 1867 (this was previously known as the British North America Act, 1867 and was renamed by the Constitution Act 1982)
  • The Constitution Act 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK act), c.11, and including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Print sources of the Constitution include the Statutes of Canada, and Laskins Canadian Constitutional Law (Carswell 1986), both of which are available in the IALS Library. 

Electronic sources are best for the most up-to-date English and French versions, including the Canadian Justice Laws Website, CanLII and the World Constitutions Illustrated database which is part of the subscription database Hein Online.

A description of the constitutional distribution of legislative powers can be found on the website of the Government of Canada and on the website of the Parliament of Canada.

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Legislation

Acts

Acts may be federal or provincial/territorial. Statutes start their lives as bills. In order for a bill to be passed into law, it must be approved by the legislature. Federal bills may originate in either the House of Commons or the Senate, and must be read three times by both chambers. Provincial/territorial bills must be read three times by the legislature. Legisinfo is a website provided by the Parliament of Canada, and is a good source of federal bills. It also allows users to track the progress of a bill and to find related documents such as major speeches in Parliament and recorded votes. 

Once a bill has passed through the legislative procedure it receives Royal Assent (from the Governor General on behalf on the Queen), at which point it becomes an Act of Parliament and is given a chapter number. This does not necessarily mean that the act is in force.Some laws enter into force on the date of Royal Assent, some enter into force on another date specified in the Act, and some come into force on a day or days set by the Governor in Council.

A detailed account of the legislative process is provided on the Parliament of Canada website.

Regulations

Like Acts, regulations may be either federal or provincial/territorial but regulations are not subject to the same process of legislative approval as statutes. The authority to make a regulation is granted in an enabling Act, usually to the relevant government agency, Minister, Lieutenant Governor or Governor in Council. Regulations usually contain more specific guidelines than will be found in Acts.

Sources of legislation

Federal: chronological

Federal statutes and regulations are published in annual volumes. IALS Library has the following:

Canada Statutes / Statutes of Canada since 1840.
Statutory Orders and Regulations 1947-1996.

Federal statutes are also published online in the Canada Gazette Part III (Acts of Parliament) and regulations are published in Part II (Official regulations). Since 1st April 2003 these online PDF versions have been recognised as official versions (the print version ceased publication on 1st April 2014).

Of note for historial purposes, IALS has War Proclamations, 1914-1916, and War Orders and Regulations, 1942-1945.

One way to bring your chronological legislation up-to-date is to use a statute citator, such as the Canada Statute Citator, or Canadian Current Law: Legislation. Both are available at IALS (although the Canada Statute Citator is no longer updated). However it is likely to be quicker to refer to a version that has already been revised, if available. See below.

Federal: revised

From time to time a revised consolidation of Federal statutes is published. IALS Library has a wide range of revised legislation in print, including the following:

Revised Statutes of Canada: consolidations of 1886, 1906, 1927, 1952, 1970, and 1985.
Statutory Orders and Regulations: consolidations of 1949, 1955 and 1963.

Printed consolidations are becoming increasingly rare due to the availability of good quality online sources of revised legislation.

Consolidated acts and regulations are available in English and French on the Department of Justice's Justice Laws website.  From June 2009 they are considered to be the official versions. The Justice Laws website offers the option to view previous versions of legislation. The website is generally updated every two weeks and the date that Acts and Regulations are current to is shown on the front page.

Federal legislation is also published on CanLII, the Canadian Legal Information Institute. CanLII aims to make Canadian law available for free on the internet.  It is a non-profit organisation created by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and is funded by member societies. The federal legislation available on CanLII includes the Constitution, the Consolidated Statutes of Canada, and the Consolidated Regulations of Canada. CanLII's interface supports browsing and searching of the content, with tips on advanced searching. Users can also request to see a piece of legislation as it stood at a particular point in time. The federal statutes and regulations are reproduced on CanLII with the permission of the Department of Justice. English and French versions of CanLII are available.

Westlaw International contains the most recent consolidations of federal legislation.

Hein Online includes all six editions of the Revised Statutes of Canada.

Provincial and territorial

The table below illustrates the good representative holdings of legislation for the provinces and territories held at IALS, both chronological and revised. It also provides a link to the relevant provincial or territorial agency that makes available legislation online.

Province / Territory

Legislation Series

Note

Online Access

Alberta

Revised statutes of Alberta 2000

Statutes of the Province of Alberta (annual volumes) 1906- 2001.

Alberta Gazette (1985-2003) for secondary legislation.

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

The citator available is Statutes of Alberta judicially considered.

Alberta Queen’s Printer website

British Columbia

Revised statutes of British Columbia, 1979-1981 consolidation. 

Statutes of British Columbia, annual volumes, to 2002.

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

Citators include the British Columbia statute citator, and

Statutes of British Columbia judicially considered.
 

British Columbia Queen’s Printer website

Manitoba

Continuing consolidation of the statutes of Manitoba, 1987-, looseleaf. 

Statutes of Manitoba, 1890-, annual volumes.

Manitoba regulations, 1974-

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

Manitoba Queen’s Printer website

New Brunswick

Revised statutes of New Brunswick, 1973.

New Brunswick acts, 1824-, annual volumes.

New Brunswick Regulations, 1964-2004.

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

New Brunswick Attorney General website

Newfoundland and Labrador

Revised statutes of Newfoundland, 1990.

Newfoundland acts, 1836-, annual volumes.

Newfoundland gazette, index of subordinate legislation, 1979-

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly website

Northwest Territories

Revised statutes of the Northwest Territories, 1988.

Revised regulations of the Northwest Territories, 1990.

 

 

Northwest Territories Department of Justice website

Nova Scotia

Revised statutes of Nova Scotia, 1989-, looseleaf

Nova Scotia acts, 1758-, annual volumes.

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

Nova Scotia Legislature website

Nunavut

-

-

Nunavut Department of Justice website

Ontario

Revised statutes of Ontario, 1990- / Lois refondues de l'Ontario

Statutes of the Province of Ontario, 1867-, annual volumes

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

The citator available is Ontario statute citator.

Ontario e-laws website

Prince Edward Island

Revised statutes of Prince Edward Island, 1988

Laws of Prince Edward Island, 1773-, annual volumes

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

Government of Prince Edward Island website

Quebec

Lois refondues du Québec, 1978-, looseleaf.

Statutes of the Province of Quebec, 1867-, annual volumes.

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

Publications Quebec website

Saskatchewan

Statutes of Saskatchewan, 1998-, looseleaf.

Statutes of Saskatchewan, 1906-.  Annual volumes. 

Regulations of Saskatchewan, 1995-.

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

The citator available is Statutes of Saskatchewan judicially considered, 1979-.

Saskatchewan Queen’s Printer website

Yukon Territory

Republished statutes of the Yukon, 1986-1990

Statutes of the Yukon Territory, 1982-, annual volumes

Previous consolidations are in the reserve collection.

Government of Yukon website

 

Provincial / territorial statutes and regulations are published in consolidated form on CanLII. See above for further information on the Canadian Legal Information Institute.

Westlaw International Materials contains provincial and territorial legislation currently in force.

Lexis Library provides online access to consolidated statutes and regulations of many provinces.

One way to search for all Canadian legislation on the IALS Library catalogue it to run a classmark search for GC1. E (GC1 is the designation for Canada and E is the degisnation for legislation).

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Law reports

In Print

Canada has two official series of law reports, both of which are available in IALS Library:

Supreme Court reports / Recueil des arrêts de la Cour Suprême du Canada. 1876-.

Federal courts reports / Recueil des décisions des Cours fédérales. 1971-.  Before 2004, this series was entitled Federal Court reports.

IALS Library has a very good collection of Canadian law reports, from the 19th Century onwards. Here is a list of some prominent series available and details of library holdings:

Business law reports / Recueil de jurisprudence en droit des affaires. 1977-. Now in its 6th series.

Canada tax cases. 1972-2008.  Judgments of the Supreme Court, Federal Court, Tax Court of Canada and provincial courts on taxation matters.

Canadian cases on the law of torts / Recueil de jurisprudence canadienne en resonsabilité civile. 1976- The 4th series is the current one.

Canadian criminal cases. 1898-

Canadian environmental law reports / Recueil de jurisprudence canadienne en droit de l’environnement. 1978-.  The 4th series is the current one.

Canadian human rights reporter. 1980-

Canadian insurance law reporter. 1934-2010.

Canadian labour law reporter. 1980.- Loose-leaf

Canadian patent reporter. 1942-.  IALS has all series, the current one being the fourth.

Dominion law reports. 1912-.  This is a weekly series of reports of cases from all the courts of Canada.  Now in its 4th series.

Federal trial reports. 1986-2016.

Reports of family law / Recueil de jurisprudence en droit de la famille. 1971-.  Now in its 8th series.

Western weekly reports. 1912- 

The Library also maintains good collections of the law reports of the provinces of Canada. Again, older materials and series for provinces and territories are kept in the reserve collection. Among the current and recent series which are available on open access shelves are:

Alberta law reports. 7th series. 2014-

British Columbia law reports. 6th series. 2017-

Manitoba reports. 2nd series. 1979-2016

New Brunswick reports. 2nd series. 1969-2016

Newfoundland & Prince Edward Island reports. 1971-2016

Nova Scotia reports. 2nd series. 1970-

Ontario reports. 3rd series. 1991-

Saskatchewan reports. 1980-2016

Recueil de jurisprudence du Québec. 1986-2001

Electronic

Lexis Library offers good coverage of Canadian cases, with the Supreme Court Reports, the Federal Court Reports, and material from many of the provinces. 

Westlaw International Materials offers good coverage for Canada, containing reported and unreported cases. Westlaw IM provides coverage of all reported court decisions from 1977, as well as decisions published by Carswell/Canada Law Book from their inception. It contains all reported board and tribunal decisions published by Carswell/Canada Law Book 1997 forward, with Carswell, as well as all other reported decisions from 1997 forward. 

Hein Online contains the Supreme Court Reports.

CanLII is a online free service. CanLII contains hundreds of thousands of cases, from the federal and provincial jurisdictions and from various boards and tribunals.  In recent years, the service has added significant older cases. The search interface allows users to search for decisions of a single jurisdiction or across all courts. Browsing court decisions by year is also possible. A page listing CanLII databases with information on the scope of decisions containes is available.

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Digests & Citators

The Canadian Abridgement covers over 850,000 digests or summaries of cases decided by the Canadian courts and administrative tribunals since 1803. The Abridgement offers a comprehensive treatment, arranged by subject, of legal issues from Canadian case law, and helps researchers to track changes in the law. Since 1998, it aims to include summaries of cases from all courts in common law jurisdictions in Canada.  It includes digests of Quebec cases of national importance, but excludes cases based exclusively on the Quebec Civil Code. IALS holds all three print editions of the Canadian Abridgment, from 1935 to 2008.

Another digest is the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (Western), being “a complete statement of the federal laws of Canada and the provincial laws of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as derived from the cases and statutes”.  IALS has the first three editions of this. IALS does not hold the current edition (4th edition).

KeyCite Canada is available online in Westlaw to academic users at IALS. It is a citation research service adapted from The Canadian Abridgment’s suite of citator products (Canadian Case Citations, Canadian Statute Citations, Rules Judicially Considered, Regulations Judicially Considered). For case law, KeyCite indicates the later judicial treatment of a case, appellate history, citing references from commentary on Westlaw, and other information useful to researching the case.

Halsbury's Laws of Canada is a multi volume encyclopaedic work. It is a good starting point if you are researching an subject area of Canadian law that you are not familiar with. It is kept up to date at IALS by regular replacement volumes and a cumulative supplement.

CanLII also offers a noter-up service. Users can search for a case and then choose to view the treatment tab, or else view the judgment and click on the speech bubble beside a particular paragraph in a judgment to see the citing documents (other cases, legislation and commentary which have referred to the original case).

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Books

Ted Tjaden's freely available online guide, Researching Canadian Law (updated by Kim Nayyer), lists a number of Canadian law books on various topics, and the IALS Library holds recent editions of many of these in its collection.  Previous editions are available for many titles, and kept in the reserve collection. Check the IALS Library catalogue for more details.

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Journals

IALS has a good collection of Canadian legal journals.  These include university law school titles, law society journals and bar reviews, yearbooks, and many law commission and law reform papers.

Among the finding tools at IALS to the legal literature of Canada are:

Index to Canadian legal periodical literature, 1961-2006 (the IALS holdings are incomplete).  This helps to find journal articles, case comments and book reviews.  It is arranged by subject, with cross-references from the French terms to the English. It includes a list of publications indexed, an author and title index, a table of cases, and a book review index. 

Index to Canadian legal literature / index a la Documentation juridique au Canada. This bilingual index forms part of Canadian Current Law and it indexes journal articles, books, official publications, and case comments.  It includes a list of journals, subject index, author index, tables of cases and legislation, and a book review index. The subject index includes terms in English and in French. IALS holds the index 1981-200 and 2007-2009.

A wide range of full-text Canadian law journals and reviews are available to search and browse on both Lexis Library and Westlaw International Materials. The HeinOnline database Law Journal Library contains 105 Canadian titles and the Index to Legal Periodicals and Books also includes coverage of Canadian journals. Access to the databases is via the Electronic Law Library.

CanLII makes available a number of Canadian journals, with more issues being added on an ongoing basis.

 

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Quebec Law

The law in Quebec is a unique mixture of common and civil law. This is because both Great Britian and France governed the region that is now Quebec at different times. A concise summary of the history of the justice system in Quebec is given in McCormack's Practical guide to Canadian legal research (3rd ed, Carswell 2010). Information on the judicial system in Quebec is also provided on the Justice Quebec website.

Generally speaking, criminal constitutional and adminstrative law is governed by the common law system, whereas private law comes under a system of civil law. Most aspects of private law are codified in the Civil Code of Quebec.

The IALS Library has the current Civil Code of Quebec in looseleaf format in English and French. Numerous superseded versions are also available, the earliest being the Civil Code of Lower Canada, published in 1866.

Up-to-date versions of the Code are also available electronically on CanLII and Westlaw International Materials.

The Code does not contain all the private law of Quebec, statutues and regulations exist in their own right. See the table above for details of library holdings of Quebec statutes.

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Research guides

Useful research guides held in print at IALS Library include:

Whitehead P, Legal writing and research manual. (7th edn, LexisNexis Butterworths 2012). An introduction to legal research and writing for students.

Fitzgerald M, Legal problem solving: reasoning, research and writing (LexisNexis Canada 2016)

McCormack N et al, Practical guide to Canadian legal research (3rd edn, Carswell 2010). Introduction to various legal research materials aimed at legal practitioners, law students and academics.

Tjaden T, Legal research and writing (3rd edn, Irwin Law 2010).  This book aims to explain the skills needed for legal research and legal writing in both the print and online spheres.  See also Tjaden’s legal research guides on Globalex.

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Online resources

CANLII, the Canadian Legal Information Institute, aims to make the law of Canada available free on the internet.

Justice Laws Website, from the Department of Justice - an online source of the consolidated Acts and Regulations of Canada.

The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide (formerly the Best guide to Canadian legal research and now availabe via VCanLII). This site provides practical guidance on conducting legal research with links to key Canadian legal sites.

Eagle-i Internet Portal for Law - access to legal information from around the world.  You can browse by jurisdiction and choose Canada to display details of over 150 primary and secondary resources on the law of Canada.

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